• Paddling on the Potomac River

    Potomac Heritage

    National Scenic Trail DC,MD,PA,VA

C&O Canal Hike 13

Harpers Ferry to Shepherdstown and Lock 38

Starting at the old 1893 railroad trestle, the westbound Towpath now enters one of its most dramatic sections. On your right, towering cliffs dwarf the canal. Until the early 1950s, wild goats roamed the wooded ridge. Black bears have been making a comeback in the area as well — making their way back just as human settlement is rapidly expanding. The Potomac roars by through a set of Class II rapids known as "The Needles." Look for kayakers along here. When the river is high you get the impression you're about to walk right into the water. After hiking a mile you re-enter woods and soon reach Feeder Dam 3. Note the interesting ruins here including the dam, a lockhouse and a drydock on the berm side of Lock 35 where boats were repaired. Soon you'll come to the beautifully restored Antietam Aqueduct. The bloodiest battle in US history took place just upstream from here. The section ends under the bridge at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, which is just across the river.

 

Trip Planner

Start: Harpers Ferry
End: Shepherdstown
Miles: 12.1
Points of Interest: Harpers Ferry, Maryland Heights Trail, Feeder Dam 3, Antietam Aqueduct, Shepherdstown
Parking: Lock 34 (0.9 mi.), Dargan Bend Recreation Area (4.2 mi.), Mountain Lock Recreation Area (6.5 mi.), Antietam Creek campsite (8.8 mi.), Lock 38 (12.1 mi.)
Water: Huckleberry Hill campsite, Antietam Creek campsite (water at campsites normally turned off November-April)
Restroom or Privy: Huckleberry Hill campsite, Dargan Bend, Mountain Lock Recreation Area, Antietam Creek campsite
Provisions: Harpers Ferry (limited), Shepherdstown
Camping: Huckleberry Hill campsite, Antietam Creek campsite

 

Hike Data

Mile Navigation
0 Harpers Ferry. AT crosses river here, headed to Georgia (or Maine, depending on which way you're headed). National Park across bridge features restored buildings, visitor center and bookstore (Cross bridge, pass under trestle on West Virginia side and turn left). Restrooms and water here during business hours. Town also features many antique shops, a museum and restaurants and an outfitter. Motels and B&B's also available. Harpers Ferry is served by both MARC and Amtrak.
0.6 Footbridge to Maryland Heights Trail.
0.9 Lock 34.
1.6 Feeder Dam 3 and lock 35.
2.2 Huckleberry Hill campsite.
4.2 Dargan Bend Recreation Area. There is a day use picnic area, no camping.
6.3 Lock 37.
8.7 Antietam Aqueduct.
8.8 Antietam campsite.
12.1 Lock 38 and Shepherdstown. To reach town follow trail from parking lot to road. Turn left and cross Rumsey Bridge over Potomac River. The town is just across the river. Bookstores, bakeries, restaurants and shops all found here. Motels and B&B's available.
 

Explore the PHT

Maryland Heights Trail
This trail is accessed from a footbridge across the canal just up from Harpers Ferry. Route starts as a very steep climb up an old woods road but is well worth the effort. Stone forts, trenches and other Civil War ruins are passed. One leg of the trail reaches the cliff above the Harpers Ferry Tunnel. Hikes of up to 4-6 miles roundtrip are possible. Sturdy footwear is advisable and extra caution is needed in inclement weather. Maps of this trail are available at the Harpers Ferry Visitors Center on Shenandoah Street in Harpers Ferry. To reach the visitors center follow the AT across the railroad bridge and under the spur to Shenandoah St. Turn left about 100 yards.

Antietam Battlefield
This place lies about 2.5 miles from the Towpath and a mile north of the village of Sharpsburg on MD Route 65. On September 17, 1862, more than 23,000 men died here making it the bloodiest battle in US history. Walking tours of both the battlefield and the cemetery bring that grim day to life. The village of Sharpsburg contains numerous historic buildings along with antique shops and cafes. To reach the battlefield, leave the towpath at Snyders Landing Road and go 1.6 miles to Route 65 in Sharpsburg. Turn left and go 1mile north to battlefield.

Shepherdstown
This picturesque village is thought to be the oldest town in West Virginia having been settled perhaps as early as 1719. German Street features a terrific bookstore, two bakeries and antique shops. It has an array of casual and upscale eateries, B&B's and dozens of historic structures. There are motel and grocery stores on Route 45, a mile west of the four-way stop. Shepherdstown is also the home of the Contemporary American Theater Festival, held each July, and the American Conservation Film Festival, which plays in autumn. On December 3, 1787, inventor James Rumsey successfully demonstrated his steamboat here, an event commemorated with a park and monument high above the river.

Did You Know?

Canal mules in 2004

A mule is a hybrid animal, a mix of a female horse (a mare) and a male donkey (a jack). Remember, "M" for mom, "M" for mare and "D" for dad, "D" for donkey. Switching the parents will produce a hinny. The mule is the superior work animal, preferred by canal boat captains on the C&O Canal.